Politics A party’s identity crisis 4
Nation A higher rebound for the rich 8
Olympics Running under the radar 16
5 Myths The Pacific Rim 23
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3 reasons Trump could win BY
P HILIP W ALLACH
he marquee matchup is now in view: Clinton vs. Trump. There are still some wrinkles to be worked out, but it’s looking like the Empire State will produce its first president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Most people assume Clinton is the prohibitive favorite in this contest, and that’s a fair extrapolation of current polling that shows Trump would start the race as a historically unpopular candidate. But nobody should be handing Clinton the keys to her old house just yet. Clinton over Trump is not a foregone conclusion — not in 2016, the year of such mistaken assumptions about the nature of American politics. A generic sense that Trump has a puncher’s chance is now widespread. Usually, it involves a new development in Clinton’s legal troubles or a jarring terrorist attack that could change everything, and Trump has proved sufficiently surprising by now that we are obliged to offer a heartfelt, “Who knows?” But there are three particular factors making Trump a bigger threat to Clinton than is generally acknowledged. 1. Concerns about bigotry aren’t the vote-mover you might think. Trump’s long history of outrageous statements combined with America’s current demographics convince many people he is dead on arrival. Should we assume that Trump will fare historically poorly among minorities, given his reputation for what many have labeled bigotry? Maybe. But then again maybe the notion that “everyone’s a little bit racist” is more widespread than politicians (and respectable commentators) often admit. People care about bigotry most if it translates into harmful acts. There are some allegations of that: Trump’s real estate company allegedly committed some serious acts of discrimination back in the 1970s, and voters will hear a lot more about that before November.
But the evidence of Trump’s racism is mostly a record of careless remarks. Trump will surely make plenty of heartfelt declarations that there is no hatred in his heart, and then wave off his past insensitivities by saying, “Well, I’ve said a lot of things.” And so he has. That will be enough for many people — probably more than you think.
Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton
More fundamentally, Trump’s chosen idiom is us-versus-them xenophobia, not racism. The “us” part invites “regular” Americans to feel themselves as a people, in large part by identifying and rejecting elites’ cosmopolitanism as poisonous to our national fiber. That way of thinking doesn’t have to be racial at all. Trump is groping toward a 21st century Jacksonian political program that might have surprisingly wide appeal, even if it is seasoned with some genuinely offensive ideas along the way. 2. Trump is much better at dictating the terms of engagement. That brings us to the second factor working in Trump’s favor: He has proved to be a brilliant manipulator of the terms of engagement. In terms of style and substance (or lack thereof), Trump made the Republican field talk about what he wanted to talk about and discuss the world in a more Trumpian way. In contrast, in her 2008 and 2016 primary campaigns, Hillary Clinton allowed her oppo-
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nents to set the terms of debate to a striking extent. In 2008, that led to her primary defeat and in 2016 to a surprisingly hard road to primary victory. Trump’s strength and Clinton’s weakness on this front make it hard to be confident that Democrats will succeed at setting the agenda in 2016. 3. Clinton will be forced to defend the status quo. That means Democrats should not be overly confident that they can make the election a referendum on Trump, the man. Surely if they could succeed at doing so, Clinton would win in a landslide. But Trump will be selling voters something more than his outsize personality; he will be asking for a choice between “Trump, the middle finger to the way things have been,” and “Clinton, the choice of more of the same.” One doesn’t have to like Trump to choose the former; indeed, there will be more than a few voters who talk themselves into the idea that only someone with as many noxious qualities as Trump will be capable of upsetting the necessary apple carts. Clinton’s sales pitch is that she has a strong and steady record as first lady, senator and secretary of state who has learned how to work the system. That past as a consummate insider leaves her uniquely disadvantaged to defend against Trump’s anti-establishment attacks. Clinton and future opponents of 21st century Jacksonian politics — Trumpian or not — need to find ways of offering their own broadly resonant version of “us.” Affirming the status quo isn’t a viable way of doing that today, and therein lies Clinton’s vulnerability. None of that makes Trump the favorite to win in November. But he has managed to shake the foundations of U.S. politics like no candidate before. Whether that was enabled by genius or luck, we should not underestimate him. n
CONTENTS POLITICS THE NATION THE WORLD COVER STORY TRENDS BOOKS OPINION FIVE MYTHS
4 8 10 12 17 18 20 23
ON THE COVER A look at the experience of other black trailblazers gives an idea of what President Obama might face after his term ends. Illustration by JAMES STEINBERG for The Washington Post
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2016
GOP is thrust into an identity crisis
JOHN SOMMERS II/GETTY IMAGES
Trump’s coup while spurning conservative views leaves Republicans in existential limbo BY K AREN T UMULTY AND R OBERT C OSTA
onald Trump has demolished just about every pillar of Republican philosophy, leaving the party to grapple with an identity crisis deeper than anything it has seen in half a century. The GOP has chosen as its 2016 standard-bearer a candidate who has flouted a litany of its oncesacred conservative principles. Trump is disdainful of free-trade
agreements, leery of foreign intervention, less than strident on social issues and a champion of protecting entitlements. Trump has also shattered Republican efforts to appeal to minorities and women by taking extreme positions on building a wall along the southern border and barring Muslims from entering the country — and offending women with a series of insulting comments. And Trump has risen as the institutional powers of the party, from
its congressional leadership to its thought leaders at think tanks and in the media, have seen their support and stature diminished and fragmented during the Obama era, leaving vulnerable both the party and the right overall. “As this develops, he’ll help shape — at least for this year, and maybe for a long time after that — what it means to be a Republican,” said former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean (R). “There has been so much anger and fear and turmoil this cycle
Supporters wait for Donald Trump to arrive for a campaign rally in Indianapolis last month. After winning the Indiana primary May 3, his last Republican opponents dropped out, leaving him as the presumptive GOP nominee.
that I don’t think we’ve fully digested the philosophical bent of Trump,” added Al Cardenas, former head of both the American Conservative Union and the Florida GOP. “There have been votes of discontent and emotion, but little consideration on the bandwidth of his candidacy and what it really means for who we are.” What Trump understands and channels is the frustration of the GOP’s grass roots, whose fury is directed as much at traditional Republicans as anywhere else.
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Voters turned to a figure with no government or military experience — the first nominee to lack either of those bona fides since Wendell Willkie in 1940. “I don’t believe Trump has any beliefs. What I sense happened is he saw an arbitrage opportunity, a huge disconnect of the rank and file from the elite on immigration and trade, and he just exploited that,” said Reihan Salam, a conservative intellectual and author. “He walked in, took advantage and recognized there is a constituency.” Trump discerned that early, even as the GOP establishment was sifting through the rubble of 2012, trying to figure out why it had lost the popular vote in five out of the past six presidential elections. Their prescription for victory was to soften their party’s image by appealing to young people, Hispanics and women. Trump’s was the opposite. Just six days after GOP nominee Mitt Romney conceded defeat to President Obama, Trump quietly filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for
rights to the phrase that has become the signature line of his campaign: “Make America great again.” “This has never been a campaign about ideology or policy per se, or a 14-point policy plan,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. “It’s been about sending a message about Washington and the direction of the country.” On the GOP debate stage, Trump stood out in a field of former and current governors and senators as the ultimate outsider. He railed against failing institutions, political correctness and a world that seemed to be pushing this country around. Republicans have always put a premium on experience and had expected the cast of 2016 to be their most appealing in a generation. Instead, their voters turned to a figure with no government or
military experience — the first nominee to lack either of those bona fides since Wendell Willkie in 1940 — and one who was best known to many Americans as the host of a reality television show. Trump’s moment is the culmination of many trends that have taken hold on the right, especially since the end of George W. Bush’s presidency eight years ago. The economic recession and financial bailouts angered and alienated the party base, sparking the rise of the tea party movement and its subsequent disappointment with the GOP-controlled Congress that it had been instrumental in bringing to Washington. For his part, Trump is still adjusting to the sudden turn Tuesday that ended the nomination battle and put him as the de facto head of the Republicans. One of his first moves was to send a signal of reconciliation.
Donald Trump, seen at the first Republican presidential debate last year, sent signals of reconciliation with the party after becoming the presumptive nominee.
“I absolutely do not want to take over the party,” he said in an interview. “I want to work with the party.” But the two leaders of the GOP on Capitol Hill — House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — barely know Trump and have had only occasional phone calls with him in recent months. On policy, Trump can appear to be worlds apart, such as with his opposition to the sweeping budget overhaul and trade pacts that have been the cornerstone of Ryan’s national career. Unlike McConnell, who comes out of the trench warfare of partisan Kentucky politics, and Ryan, who is a scion of the supply-side conservative movement, Trump is a product of the New York real estate business and the city’s tabloid culture, a political agitator lacking an ideological project. The main thing many Republican leaders want right now is reassurance that, despite polls to the contrary, Trump is not leading the GOP to a massive defeat in the fall that could wipe out candidates all the way down the ballot and possibly cost them their Senate majority. “The question is whether Trump can put together a majority coalition with unfavorable ratings in the mid-60s,” said veteran GOP pollster David Winston. “Granted, Clinton is in the mid-50s with her ratings, but he has to define a plan to get his unfavorable numbers down. If he can’t, it’ll be a big problem.” And they are anxious to see whether he can grow into a figure whom voters beyond the Republican base can see as a credible occupant of the Oval Office. “We’re going to have to wait and see if there is an evolution of the candidate,” Cardenas said. “The whole thing is a work in progress.” The most optimistic among Republicans hope that Trump has the capacity to bring in new voters and expand the party’s reach. But they realize that could ultimately come at the cost of their identity and the coherence of their worldview. “It’s about to grow into a much bigger coalition than it has been in a long time,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich, whose name is being mentioned as a possible running mate for Trump. “And that will inevitably involve a lot of stress.” n
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2016
Can Clinton make good on priorities? BY A NNE G EARAN AND P AUL K ANE
ith Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s campaign turning fully toward the general election, the candidate is speaking in increasingly strong terms about immediately tackling one of her party’s most challenging domestic policy goals: gun control. Clinton says just as forcefully that immigration reform would be her top priority upon entering the White House. Without a dramatic Democratic sweep of Congress, few Democrats or Republicans believe that either of these giant promises has a chance in January. That puts Clinton in the somewhat tricky position of making promises that many doubt she could fulfill. But the Clinton campaign believes that public opinion has shifted on these two nationally divisive issues, making them winners for her to talk about in the general election. There is even hope among some Democrats that with Donald Trump as the Republican nominee they could win enough seats in the House and Senate to put gun and immigration legislation back on the table. Privately, Clinton aides and allies are more circumspect, prioritizing what is actually possible at the outset of a Clinton presidency — and which promises she would put on hold. The campaign says that there is no trade-off between immigration and gun control and that she has not overpromised on either. There is plenty of time to decide what comes when, campaign chairman John Podesta said. “That’s what the transition is for,” Podesta said, referring to the period between the election and the inauguration. Clinton is campaigning as the candidate of continuity — preserving what Democrats generally see as President Obama’s gains and making changes on his domestic agenda only at the margins. She is also promising to fix and finish what he has left undone, suggest-
MELINA MARA/THE WASHINGTON POST
Her campaign promises about immigration and guns will both require difﬁcult ﬁghts if she wins ing to different audiences that she could do so immediately. An overhaul of immigration laws, though anathema in the Republican presidential primary race, is still a better legislative bet than gun control, said Republicans and Democrats. Many Democrats think that would be doubly true if Republicans lose a large number of seats in November. “The only way that the kind of gun control that she’s talking about is going to happen is if there’s a major sea change in Congress,” said Rep. Matt Salmon (RAriz.). “You know, Nancy Pelosi speaker again. It’s not going to happen if there’s a Republican House. It’s just not.” Independent analysts such as the Cook Political Report predict large gains for Democrats in the House. But even the projected range of 15 to 20 seats would leave the party short of the 30 needed to reclaim the House. As a result, Clinton and her
allies in and out of Congress are gradually building a legislative agenda that would focus on immigration issues in Congress while mostly relying on the executive power of the presidency to further gun restrictions that would have little chance of becoming law. Clinton’s language on the campaign trail is more expansive. At a recent appearance in Hartford, Conn., she pledged that gun control would be at the top of her to-do list, no matter the strength of the opposition. “We need a national movement” to demand action in Congress and at the state level, Clinton said at a community meeting at a YMCA. “The gun lobby is the most powerful lobby in Washington,” she said. “They have figured out how to really intimidate elected officials, at all levels, who basically stop thinking about this problem because they are too scared of the NRA,” she continued, referring to
Hillary Clinton spoke in Milwaukee in late March to people affected by gun violence. “We need a national movement” to demand action from Congress, she said recently in Connecticut.
the National Rifle Association. She has been more specific about an overhaul of the immigration system at the outset of a Clinton presidency, promising to advance comprehensive measures that would offer a path to full citizenship for illegal immigrants within her first 100 days. “If Congress won’t act, I’ll defend President Obama’s executive actions, and I’ll go even further to keep families together,” Clinton promised in January. “I’ll end family detention, close private immigrant detention centers and help more eligible people become naturalized.” Clinton also has been mildly critical of Obama’s deportation program, promising to stop deportations of almost everyone, aside from violent criminals or terrorists. Clinton’s policy agenda is the most detailed of any candidate’s on either side of the race. But without a single issue on par with Obama’s health-care priority, her promises demand an evaluation of how to rank her priorities. In addition to gun control and immigration, she has promised to tackle college costs while simultaneously creating jobs, lowering prescription drug prices, fixing crumbling roads and bridges, and getting big money out of politics. And then there’s curbing Wall Street excesses and promoting clean energy sources, among other things. Immigration and gun control are the issues she points to most frequently, and often with emotional stories and examples. At the YMCA discussion on guns, Clinton was introduced by Erica Smegielski, daughter of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school principal who was shot to death three years ago along with 20 students and five other staff members. Gun control and immigration met with interlocking fates early in Obama’s second term, when he and Vice President Biden made a pitch for legislation strengthening background checks on gun purchases — and when the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators began work on a sweeping rewrite of immigration
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POLITICS and border-security laws. After the outcry from the mass shooting in Newtown, Democratic leaders decided to move the gun measure first, in part because public polling showed that about 90 percent of Americans supported action. But the NRA, with help from moderate Republicans and some centrist Democrats, dug in for a fight. Democrats ditched the gun legislation and pivoted to immigration. Two months later, the Senate approved the immigration overhaul on a bipartisan vote of 68 to 32. The legislation included a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants. It never went anywhere in the House. That’s the history Clinton would inherit — including the presumption that these big lifts can only be done one at a time, Democrats said. Clinton would go further than Obama to broaden requirements for background checks and narrow loopholes that allow largely unrestricted trafficking of guns online. “Building on the steps pursued by President Obama, Secretary Clinton will take administrative action to require that any person attempting to sell a significant number of guns be deemed ‘in the business’ of selling firearms,” campaign press secretary Brian Fallon said. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) waved off any political consequences for Clinton if she weren’t able to deliver much on guns. “Why would we say that about her versus Trump, who says things every day that he can’t deliver on?” Speier said. “It shows that she has a backbone. We need a president who has a backbone, someone who’s not going to, out of fear of blowback, say what needs to be said. The moms of America are going to embrace it; they want their kids to be able to play in a park without being shot.” Clinton’s allies say that immigration is more ripe for change, particularly if Republicans lose seats. But opposition remains fierce among the House’s more-conservative Republicans. “The American people would have an absolute cow,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), openly laughing at the idea. In most Republican districts, he said, immigration is a “70 to 80 percent issue” toward opposing any leniency. “I mean, it’s not even in the ballpark.” n
A math problem only superdelegates can solve BY E D O ’ K EEFE AND J OHN W AGNER
t may not matter what Sen. Bernie Sanders meant when he promised to push for a “contested” convention this summer. Even with his victory in the Indiana primary Tuesday, it remains all but impossible for him to win the nomination. Sanders used the phrase at a news conference in the days leading to Indiana at which he predicted that neither he nor Clinton would arrive at the Democratic National Convention in July with the 2,383 delegates needed to win the nomination outright. Clinton was on track, even with her loss in Indiana, to secure a majority of pledged delegates. Sanders’s point was that the nominee would also need a hefty supply of “superdelegates” — the 719 party leaders and elected officials who are automatically granted a vote at the convention — and that he planned to persuade these Democrats to support him. That’s the part that didn’t grow any more likely on Tuesday. Already, 520 superdelegates have publicly said they support Clinton, 39 have said they support Sanders and 160 have not publicly announced their choice. Sanders’s argument was that superdelegates should consider switching their allegiance to him — particularly those from states that he won. There’s little agreement with that sentiment among the superdelegates themselves. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), a superdelegate supporting Clinton, said he’s spoken with many fellow superdelegates in recent weeks. “The reality is that the overwhelming number who are committed to her did so because they think she’ll be the strongest president in these very challenging times,” he said. Levin dismissed concerns that he’s bucking the will of his state by supporting Clinton even though Sanders won Michigan. “It was a narrow victory. It was
almost a split decision,” he said. “I think one needs to take that into account, but also one’s own experience. Mine told me that especially in these very challenging times that she would be the most effective president.” Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, one of Clinton’s most vocal supporters, was even more resolute.
CHARLIE RIEDEL/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a May 3 rally in Louisville.
“Absolutely not,” he said of the possibility of superdelegates switching allegiances from Clinton. They will select whoever has won the most delegates “and that will surely be Secretary Clinton,” he said. Sanders “has a right to contest every single primary on the calendar” just as Clinton did against then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, Rendell added. But he is still upset by the senator’s suggestion at the start of the primary season that superdelegates would play a minimal role in the nomination process. In the months since, Rendell said that Sanders supporters have targeted superdelegates with “vile emails and threatening emails.” “You can’t trash us in February and then come back and tell us how much you love us in May or June or July,” he said. “Remember, Bernie’s spent two months beating the hell out of superdelegates. We remember that. We remember how unworthy we were in February.” Several superdelegates sup-
porting Sanders declined to comment, didn’t respond to requests for comment or passed along perfunctory statements of support. Others supported Sanders’s bid to win over superdelegates. “If Senator Sanders is close or is actually leading by the time we get to the convention, I think he definitely has a case to make that in at least the states that he won, those superdelegates should be backing his campaign,” said Troy Jackson, the former state senate majority leader in Maine. Even under the rosiest assumptions, Sanders would need a minimum of 160 Democratic “superdelegates” already publicly supporting Clinton to switch sides in order to win the nomination, according to a Washington Post analysis. There are a total of 4,765 Democratic delegates — 4,046 “pledged” delegates allocated based on results in the states and 719 “superdelegates.” That special class of delegate includes every Democratic Congress member, governor and state party official, as well as prominent party members, including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. A Democratic candidate needs 2,383 delegates to clinch the party’s nomination. As of Wednesday, Clinton had 2,205 total delegates, compared to Sanders, who had 1,401, according to a tally by the Associated Press. Sanders acknowledged that he would need to win 65 percent of the remaining delegates in order to match Clinton’s current pledged delegate lead. That figure actually grew a little Tuesday, to close to 66 percent, given Sanders’s relatively narrow win in Indiana. Based on polling in the remaining states, the target remains highly unlikely. Even if Sanders were to catch Clinton, he would still need 360 superdelegates to support him. If he were to hold onto his 39 superdelegates and pick up the remaining 160 undecided votes, he would still need another 161 delegates currently supporting Clinton to clinch the nomination. n
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2016
Exclusive zip code, exclusive recovery BY J IM T ANKERSLEY AND T ED M ELLNIK
eff Hickman’s marriage was breaking up, the North Carolina housing market was melting down, and he was underwater on his fourbedroom home. He could have sold it at a loss. Instead he kept the house in the divorce, and when the recession ended and the housing market started to heal, he remodeled it. “It was,” he said, “one of the best decisions I ever made.” His home, after all, was located in one of the city’s most soughtafter neighborhoods. When Hickman finally sold in 2014, the house was worth nearly triple what he paid for it in 2000. His neighbors also did well. Over the full course of the past housing cycle, from the bubble through the bust and back into recovery, homes in his Zip code have gained 37 percent in value. That’s more than twice the national average. The secret to Hickman’s success was that old real estate axiom: location, location, location. The axiom has become even more true in the wake of the nation’s great housing bust and recovery. By buying in an exclusive neighborhood, Hickman earned a much greater return than owners of similar homes elsewhere. As a result, the recovery of housing markets like Charlotte’s has not only left in place big wealth disparities in America, it has widened them, according to a Washington Post analysis of how home values have changed over the past 12 years. The analysis, based on data from Black Knight Financial Services, shows that nationally the housing recovery looks like a staircase, with the lowest average price growth in the lowest-value areas. Between 2004 and the end of 2015, the average home price rose 21 percent in the most expensive Zip codes of major U.S. cities. The average home price in the rest — the bottom 90 percent of Zip codes — rose 13 percent. The shows how rising income
TRAVIS DOVE FOR THE WASHINGTON POST
High demand for homes in the most sought-after neighborhoods is widening economic inequality inequality has fed higher wealth inequality, as high-income Americans earn still higher amounts of money, which they can then use to bid on homes. That, in turn, allows them to earn even higher returns than housing does for everyone else. Indeed, research released this year shows that the primary driver of higher housing prices in well-off neighborhoods is not bigger homes or renovations but simply people bidding against each other to live in those areas. “People are paying more to be segregated, is the dark way of looking at it,” said David Albouy of the University of Illinois, who, along with the University of Michigan’s Mike Zabek, showed that inequality of housing values has reached its highest point since World War II. Home values at the high and low end of the market are now further apart than they’ve ever seen over this time. Albouy and Zabek worry that an increased concentration of very
rich people into super-desirable neighborhoods could hamper the ability of children born poor or middle-class to get ahead as adults. “If there is less income mixing, perhaps that would lead to less equality of opportunity,” Albouy said. Neighborhood house bidding wars “are basically pushing the rungs of the ladder farther apart.” Across the country, the growth in home values in some cities, such as Austin and Denver, has been relatively even, from the lowest price tiers to the top. But most of the nation’s most dynamic urban economies have all experienced housing recoveries that deliver more benefits to better-off people. In the Los Angeles area, median prices have risen 43 percent in the Zip codes with the most-expensive houses, compared with 20 percent everywhere else. In San Francisco, top prices are up 62 percent, and everywhere else, 36 percent. In Boston, prices in top neighborhoods are up 30 percent and the
Jeff and Kelly Hickman make breakfast in their recently renovated home in Charlotte, N.C.
rest are up 10 percent. These disparities in how home values changed are rooted in both the bubble and the crash. In the buildup to the bust, U.S. home prices across all value tiers rose together by double-digit rates, with the increase in lower-price neighborhoods often larger on a percentage basis. In the first years of the crash, homes from top to bottom went together into freefall. By the end of the crash, however, homes in higher-priced neighborhoods had managed to hold some of their gains. In contrast, lower-priced neighborhoods tended to lose all of their increase in value and then some, going below 2004 values. That’s the difference that still persists. In Hickman’s Zip code, 28211, part of a sought-after neighborhood called Cotswold, home values are more than twice those of the region overall. They never fell below 2004 levels during the crash, and by the end of last year, they had risen to more than 37 percent above 2004 levels. Six miles east, in the 28227 Zip code, the recovery has been far less impressive. The leafy enclave of Mint Hill is a fairly typical suburb in the region, with sizable red brick homes and a median income that matches the Charlotte metro area’s. But there, home values are just 9 percent above 2004 prices. Overall, in Charlotte, market values in Zip codes that already had the most-expensive homes have risen 31 percent since 2004. In the other nine-tenths of Zip codes, values are up by half that — 15 percent. “It’s not about the house,” said Daniel Cottingham, a Realtor who lives in one of those select neighborhoods in Charlotte. “It’s about dirt. The only thing that gains value is the dirt.” Jeff Hickman was a beneficiary of the uneven performance. When he moved to North Carolina from Atlanta in late 1999, he was an executive at an energy services company. He bought a home in Cotswold, which had become one of the city’s most exclusive Zip codes — close
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NATION to downtown and high-end shopping centers, and rapidly filling up with young professionals. He paid $209,000. The bubble burst late in 2007, just as Hickman and his wife decided to separate. By the time Hickman and his wife divorced the next year, prices had fallen so much that Hickman estimated he would lose money if he sold the house. He sat tight. Meanwhile, a couple of miles south of Cotswold, another Charlotte couple was breaking up in the midst of the meltdown. Kelly Sercer and her husband had bought their house, an allbrick four-bedroom that backed up to a creek, at the height of the bubble. Now it was worth less than they owed, and they couldn’t afford to move out. So until they divorced, she lived upstairs and he lived in the basement. When they tried to sell the house again in 2010, no bids met their asking price. They rented the house and waited, with Sercer’s share in the home ultimately being bought out by her ex-husband. Sercer and Hickman became friends after his divorce. Eventually they started dating. In 2011, Hickman began a two-year, $220,000 remodeling of his house in Cotswold. But after Hickman and Sercer married in 2013, they realized something: The house didn’t fit the lifestyle they wanted, one that would hopefully include children. So in 2014, they sold it for $618,000. Hickman earned a $189,000 profit, a 44 percent return after accounting for the remodeling costs. Then they bought her old house from her ex-husband, for 9 percent less than Sercer and her thenhusband paid for it. Their house was also in an exclusive Zip code, but in a relatively less desirable corner of it. The Hickmans have no plans to sell their new home anytime soon. They recently gutted it and installed new floors, Italian marble countertops and a six-burner stove that cost more than either of their cars. “We overspent,” Kelly Hickman said earlier this year, smiling, but they’re betting it’s worth it: They’re watching young professionals begin to buy homes around them. This could be the next hot neighborhood. n
Graduates ﬁnd a sunnier job landscape, with a few clouds BY D ANIELLE G ABRIEL
ob prospects for college seniors about to graduate are looking up this year after an overall hiring boom, but lackluster wages and the burden of student debt might make new hires feel like they are still at a disadvantage. The nation has more job openings and higher demand for college graduates than in years past, and students are certainly motivated to work, especially if they are saddled with thousands of dollars — or tens of thousands of dollars — in school loans. Nearly 75 percent of employers surveyed by CareerBuilder, a job search engine, say they plan to hire graduates fresh out of college this year, the highest it has been in nearly a decade. “Most industries, outside of energy, are really doing quite well, and that makes the environment much more receptive than in times of higher unemployment or in times of recession,” said John Challenger, chief executive of consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “The market is generally strong, companies are filling their pipeline with new grads and they have strong recruiting programs out there.” Job vacancies are at near historic highs, hovering around 5.4 million at the end of February, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Openings are on the rise in educational services and the federal government, though positions in health care, finance and insurance have started to contract. “There are still pretty promising opportunities for the graduating Class of 2016,” said Nicole Smith, a research professor and chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “But they need to be concerned about their majors because the market is very picky about competencies,” she said, noting that employers “want students to demonstrate what they know above and beyond the
JULIA RENDLEMAN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST
James Madison University students cross the quad between classes. The Class of 2016 is expected to have a somewhat easier time finding work after graduation, though student debt is still a burden for many.
credential they earned.” Many companies are favoring graduates with internships under their belts, she said. Researchers at the Georgetown center found that 63 percent of college graduates who completed a paid internship received a job offer, compared with 35 percent who never interned during their time in school. Those graduates with paid internships also scored an average starting salary of $52,000, 28 percent higher than their peers without internship experience. Colby Bender, 22, did not pursue internships as a student, pouring all of his free time at Virginia’s Radford University into student government and campus activism. The political science major figured that all of his trips to the state capital to advocate for students and his interactions with local politicians would impress potential employers. But of the 65 jobs for which he’s applied, just five have resulted in interviews, and none of those have proved fruitful. “While they say entry level, if you don’t have internships, they don’t end up choosing you. It’s frustrating because if it’s entry level, it’s entry level,” said Bender, who graduates May 7. “I’m looking for any possible job I can get. I’m
not too good for anything. I’m willing to do whatever I can to try and get some income.” Bender said many of the politicians and advocates with whom he’s worked are helping in his job search, but few local lawmakers are hiring, and the ones who are want students who have interned for them in the past. Though Bender is studying to take the LSAT in June and hopes to enter law school, he feels pressure to find work before he has to start repaying his $60,000 in student loans this fall. Looming loan repayments also are making Guadalupe Triana, 21, uneasy about her job prospects. Finishing up a semester abroad in Paris, she has perused a few listings, but wants to wait until she gets back to Lewis and Clark College in Portland to really dive into the search. Triana, who is majoring in rhetoric and media studies, said it’s hard not to worry about how she’s going to repay $30,000 in school loans. “Student debt got scary after I hit $20,000,” said Triana. “I just want to pay it off as quickly as possible. I won’t be able to do that with any job I get now, which is why I started thinking about the military. The military helps you pay back student loans.” n
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Abuse in China’s culture of silence E MILY R AUHALA Luyi County, China BY
wo months after Li Hongxia was slain, her body is not in the ground. She lies swathed in a pink duvet in a refrigerated coffin, in the house she shared with her husband. He’s accused of killing her. His family, who lived with them, fled town. Li’s parents do not believe there can be justice for victims of domestic violence. They’ve seen the system fail those without connections, they know a conviction can require clout. Refusing to bury their daughter, who was strangled to death, is a bid to make local cadres take notice, to make someone — anyone — care. In China, as elsewhere, domestic violence is a hidden epidemic — a public health crisis dismissed as private scandal, a crime discounted or covered up. The state estimates that one in four Chinese women is beaten; experts think the figure is higher and note that statistics often exclude other forms of abuse. Tens of millions are at risk. Chinese feminists fought for decades to get the government to take notice, galvanized in recent years by a string of brutal cases. In 2009, a young woman named Dong Shanshan was beaten to death by her husband after going to the police eight times. In 2011, Kim Lee, the American wife of a Chinese celebrity, went public with pictures of her battered face and her failed efforts to seek help from police. That a relatively wealthy, foreign woman was turned away reinforced a message Chinese women have heard for years: This is your problem, go home and work it out. Since coming to power in 2012, the government led by President Xi Jinping has tried to make the issue of domestic violence a cornerstone of its social policy. The country last year passed a first-ofits-kind anti-domestic-violence bill. On March 1, just days after Li was killed, it became law. The bill was hailed as a step in the right direction. Though it does
GIULIA MARCHI FOR THE WASHINGTON POST
To bring attention to often-hidden domestic violence, family refuses to bury slain daughter not cover sexual abuse and ignores same-sex partnerships, it includes measures like restraining orders that — if requested and enforced — might have helped Li. But Li’s short life and gruesome death show vividly the limits of using the courts alone to keep women safe. The governmentlinked body tasked with protecting women often works against them by promoting marriage at almost any cost, providing tips on how to “win back” partners and trusting perpetrators to change their violent ways. In the last year of her life, Li knew she needed help but was told repeatedly to go back to her husband. As she struggled, mostly alone, she faced a system utterly ill-equipped to save her and a society that, for the most part, did not think she needed help. Li, just 23, knew her husband might kill her. The question for China: Didn’t anybody else? As a child, Li was fun-loving and cheerful but not much of a
student, her sister said. In 2013, an acquaintance one village over played matchmaker, introducing her to the shy young man she would marry, Zhang Yazhou. After their wedding, Li moved into his family’s home in Zhang village, a 10-minute stroll from Yan Guan. In 2014, they had a daughter. In May last year, Li complained about pain in her lower back, the result, it later emerged, of an attack that sent her to a hospital for X-rays. When people asked about the injury, she said her husband had hurt her, accidentally, while walking on her back. When Li told her mother about the beating, she was advised to work things out at home. Her mother, Duan Liuzhi, said she discouraged her daughter from getting a divorce because ending a marriage might “bring a bad reputation” in town. For survivors of domestic violence in China, that’s a common theme. Though divorce rates are
Li Hongxia’s refrigerated coffin sits in her former home. She was strangled in a hospital room days after her husband, Zhang Yazhou, hit her in the head with a stool.
on the rise, women face enormous pressure to get and stay married. And that message is backed by the All-China Women’s Federation, the group that’s supposed to promote women’s rights. The director of the federation’s Luyi County office, Guo Yanfang, said they have been spreading the word about the new antidomestic-violence law and encouraging survivors to seek help. She said Li never came to them. “As a female comrade with a family, you must first behave yourself and do well in your role as a wife, and second, if your husband makes trouble for you, you have to say it,” Guo said. Guo said the federation encourages mediation in most cases of domestic violence. “If he corrects his mistakes, things will be fine.” But things were not fine — and Li began to say so. In July, she posted online about the beating that led to her back injury, explaining that she initially stayed quiet out of shame. In December, she wrote about her fear of being choked to death — a post that was viewed about 100 times. In comments, friends expressed support — one mentioned the new anti-domestic-violence law — but many told her she ought to reconcile with her husband. “Don’t get divorced easily, think more about what will happen to your child,” wrote one. “Think positively and you’ll get through it,” another said. Qi Lianfeng, the lawyer who represented Kim Lee, the American woman battered by her Chinese husband, said Chinese survivors, like women elsewhere, are often told to stay when their life depends on leaving. “Domestic violence often reoccurs,” he said, “and is very hard to change.” During the Lunar New Year festival, Zhang and Li welcomed guests to their home for food and drink. When Li said something Zhang did not like, he smashed the back of her head with a stool, Li told her family, an account later confirmed by Zhang Tuanjie, a neighbor who witnessed the assault. The Zhang family took Li to Luyi County Hospital, where she
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WORLD underwent tests. When her family arrived, the two clans fought in the corridors. Her husband was allowed to visit her room — another legal and moral failure, according to Qi, the lawyer. After 12 days, Li, who was two months pregnant, was transferred to another, smaller hospital, Luyi Women and Children’s Healthcare, for an abortion. On Feb. 25, she texted her husband to say she was hungry. At 5:25 p.m., he arrived, according to hospital footage obtained by The Washington Post. The next day, the hospital offered her shocked parents about $6,000 for her death in their care. They took the cash. Shortly after the killing, Zhang Yazhou’s family left the village fearing for their lives. Li’s family broke into their home and laid Li to rest in the living room, surrounded by wedding pictures and piles of winter clothes. Her parents and siblings say that they have been left to shoulder Li’s funeral and burial expenses and that they’ve received little support, and considerable harassment, from local officials and police. “Who will help us tend to this?” asked Li’s mother, Duan Lizhi. “Nobody came to help.” In late April, nearly two months after the death, Zhang Yazhou’s parents returned to the village to negotiate with the Yans. They have yet to reach an agreement or bury the body. Zhang Yazhou is in police custody and was not available for comment. In a recent interview with Henan Television, a partycontrolled station, he admitted to the May and February beatings, but said Li’s death was an “impulsive” mistake. “We were fighting and I accidentally killed her,” he told the camera. At the Luyi County police station, the lead investigator declined to comment, referring The Post to county-level propaganda officials, who in turn said to contact the provincial propaganda department. Reached by phone, provincial officials said they did not have jurisdiction. Asked how Li might have been protected, her life spared, Guo Yanfang, the head of the local branch of the Women’s Federation, said she was not sure. “How could she have been protected? How should I know ?” n
Over 300 million Indians suffer crippling drought R AMA L AKSHMI Shivoor, India BY
n the blistering sun and swirling dust, farmer Dhananjay Hanumant Suryavanshi squats on his empty land and caresses the parched earth. “There is only one thought that runs over and over again in my head. Will there be good rain this year? Will there be good rain this year?” Suryavanshi, 25, said. Four years of drought here and crop loss have forced his family to take two loans and sell a third of his land, and driven him to do menial labor. In January, his mother gave up. She drank a bottle of pesticide and fell dead near the holy basil plant in the courtyard. Relentless drought coupled with a record-breaking heat wave and bad farming practices in the western state of Maharashtra have slashed farm output and driven farmers to desperation. This year is the worst in decades, officials say, because most farmers are also burdened by years of accumulated debt as they continue to deplete the precious groundwater. About 330 million Indians are struggling under grueling heat and drought conditions across 10 states this year, the government said, severely harming the economy of a nation where nearly half the people rely on farming. Reservoirs and rivers here in Maharashtra’s drought districts are almost dry, and a 50-car train now delivers water to Latur city, near Suryavanshi’s village. Thirsty Indians place long, serpentine lines of plastic pots and drums at the municipal water tank and village wells, and fights have broken out at water pumps. In many places, children have turned into porters for their families, running up and down with water pots all day. A 12-year-old girl collapsed and died last month here in the searing 111-degree heat after she made five trips to fetch water. “My whole family is in a constant state of panic over water,” said Kasi Mali, as she placed her
NOAH SEELAM/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IMAGES
An Indian farmer stands in his dried-up cotton field in Nalgonda in the southern state of Telangana last month.
pots in a long line. “I have missed many hours of my work as a laborer because I stand here.” Nearly 30 percent of Indians in cities and 70 percent in villages rely on water pumped from deep underground, because the tap water supply is either insufficient or nonexistent. Only 17 percent of India’s farms have access to surface irrigation projects. Most farmers rely on the elusive annual rain or pump water from underground. The practice has depleted the country’s groundwater supply precipitously, alarming environmentalists and raising concerns about India’s future agricultural output. Water levels have declined in 47 percent of India’s village wells over the past decade, the government said. In Latur city,there is no groundwater even 700 feet down, residents say. In the villages nearby, the water table is in far worse shape, in some places dropping to 1,000 feet below the surface. Environmental experts have repeatedly warned that the water table will disappear soon if India’s water usage is not regulated. Experts also say that the drought is a consequence of decades of bad farming practices. In recent years, the state govern-
ment allowed the proliferation of sugar factories owned by local politicians, which led to a sort of gold rush among farmers here to cultivatewater-guzzlingsugarcane,said Pradeep Purandare, former professorofwaterstudiesattheWaterand Land Management Institute. Seventy percent of the water from the state’s dams goes to cane farms. But cane growers have drawn on groundwater, further sapping the aquifers. This year, somewhat belatedly, the administration in Latur district launched a drive to encourage farmers to shift away from cane to oil seeds, lentils and soybeans. Repeated droughts have pushed tens of thousands of farmers to leave their villages to look for work in India’s overburdened cities and towns. In Matola village, about 500 people, mostly men, have left in just the past six months. Many of the women and children left behind are selling their cattle in distress. “There is no water in the sky or under the earth; there is nothing left here,” said Bai Gidappa Pawar. In December, her husband left for Pune city with their 16-year old son to work in a quarry. “There is not a single family here that does not have a loan hanging over its head.” n
‘Being number one
a number two’
— L. DOUGLAS WILDER, FIRST BLACK GOVERNOR SINCE RECONSTRUCTION
hen the United States elected its first black president in 2008, it felt like a turning point — a cultural milestone for our country, a moment of grace in its fraught history of race relations, the fulfillment of an equality long promised by our Founding Fathers. ¶ Seven years later, a new turning point awaits: What next? ¶ No one knows. By their very nature, such “firsts” thrust us into uncharted territory. ¶ But ask BY WILLIAM WAN other black pioneers about their experiences and they agree on this: Being first is never easy, but life afterward can be just as hard — both for the person who broke the barrier and the country at large. ¶ Like Barack Obama, they endured the challenge and scrutiny of breaking barriers, and they emerged with victories of their own: the first black governor. The first black billionaire. The first black Ivy League president. ¶ If becoming a first requires determination and sacrifice, they say, then life after that first takes an equal amount of patience and perspective. ¶ The label, they say, is something you contend with for the rest of your life — questioning it, probing for what it means, striving to preserve an identity outside of it and, if you’re lucky, learning to harness its power in a way that helps others. ¶ It is a life that, yes, comes with accolades and speech invitations. But it also comes saddled with the substantial expectations and continues on next page
TOP, L. DOUGLAS WILDER; BOTTOM, RUTH SIMMONS. PHOTOS BY AMANDA VOISARD FOR THE WASHINGTON POST
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COVER STORY some point become a much lower bar. In retirement, she said, she was suddenly being hailed as a hero simply for not failing miserably as a first. “You either, as a consequence of that label, go down in history as an abysmal failure,” she said, “or if you do a reasonable job, there’s a big sigh and you become even more famous after you leave office.”
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lingering questions of others. “The aftermath of it chewed me up; on the other hand, it made me a hell of a lot stronger,” said Ed Dwight, 82, the first African American to be trained as an astronaut. In hours-long conversations with half a dozen black pioneers, many described life in the aftermath as a series of developmental stages. And in the final stage, one of introspection, they find themselves asking the same questions this country faces as its first black president’s tenure approaches its end: What did it all amount to? Did it change anything? Ruth Simmons, the ﬁrst black president of an Ivy League university First comes the huge sigh of relief. Ruth Simmons, 70, described it as a phenomenal release of pressure. Life after the first means finally shedding the weight that has accumulated on your shoulders for years. “You realize you’re free for the first time in a long time,” she said. For more than a decade, Simmons served as the first black president of an Ivy League university. That tenure as head of Brown University capped a decades-long career in academia. With each step on that journey, she felt the mounting expectations of others. She grew up dirt poor, born in a sharecropper’s shack on a cotton farm, the youngest of 12 children. Succeeding academically in Texas back then meant overturning racists’ notions about her intellectual capacity. But taking on her first administrative job — assistant dean at the University of New Orleans in 1975 — thrust her onto even more treacherous terrain. “You understand early on that you’re not going to be given a pass just because you happen to be the first African American; in fact, you’re going to be judged against a higher standard,” she said. Scrutiny from the minority community felt equally intense, with many watching to see whether she lived up to what they saw as her obligations. She had to do everything her predecessors did, but she was also inundated with requests from groups representing women, blacks and other minorities. When she grappled with issues her predecessors had not, she drew scrutiny for that, as well. Shortly after taking over Brown, she formed a committee to investigate the university’s historical ties to the slave trade and ways to acknowledge and amend for it. “If I had not been African American, it might have been fairly easy to launch,” she said. “The fact that it was a black president doing this, it drew criticism immediately.” For Simmons, all that pressure boiled down to a single haunting thought: Don’t screw this up for the next person with a shot at the top. You feel the pressure constantly, she said, as you decide how to behave in public, what clothes to wear out. You feel it as you engage with subtly racist folks — stakeholders you hate talking to but must for the good of the
GERALD HERBERT/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MEGGAN HALLER/KEYHOLE PHOTO
MATTHEW STAVER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST
university. You feel the extra scrutiny when you call out people’s misdeeds. She constantly thought back to her own black heroes and recalled how devastating it felt when they fell short. “I wanted from them integrity, courage, for them to stand up for the right principles of fairness . . . and to do that even when it cost them dearly,” she said. “That was my litmus test.” In 1995, at Smith College, she became the first black woman to lead a major private university. Then, from 2001 to 2012, she served as president of Brown, where she was widely praised by faculty and students. At the end of it all, she was surprised to discover that the high standard and incredible pressure she had felt all those years had at
Top: Ruby Bridges was the first black child to attend an allwhite school. Middle: Alexa Canady was the country’s first black neurosurgeon. Bottom: Ed Dwight was the first African American to be trained as a U.S. astronaut.
Robert L. Johnson, the ﬁrst black billionaire The counterpoint, however, to that sigh of relief is the realization that the expectations don’t end with your accomplishment. There is often a feeling by others, these black pioneers said, that the success you’ve achieved doesn’t ultimately belong to you. “Your fame, your wealth, your success become what I call an heirloom of the black community,” said Robert L. Johnson, 69, who in 1980 founded Black Entertainment Television, the biggest cable network aimed at African Americans. The message you receive from the black community about your success, Johnson said, is this: “You may be the vessel that holds it, but we own it. Therefore, you have an obligation to act in the long-term best interest of the African American community even if it may threaten your own.” For some, that sense of ownership applies to their fame or power. For Johnson, whose BET network became the first black-controlled company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, it was his wealth. In 2001, Johnson became the country’s first black billionaire with BET’s $3 billion sale to Viacom. Almost overnight, the requests started flooding in, he said. “It became, ‘You need money? Call Bob Johnson. You need a donation or program funded? Call Bob Johnson.’ ” One group desperate to help blacks in Liberia — then mired in civil war and authoritarian leadership — proposed that Johnson simply buy the entire country and fix its problems in return for mineral rights. The expectations also applied to his business ventures. His detractors — and the loudest for years have come from the black community — criticized him for filling BET’s programming with music videos of scantily clad women and high-rolling rappers. They said the channel perpetuated negative stereotypes. Johnson sees it as part of the “curse of being first.” “If there were five BETs, then you could say, ‘I don’t like that one. I’m going to watch the other one,’ ” he said. He predicts that President Obama will face similar burdens and expectations. “Some might say, ‘The man has done all he could. . . . His hair is gray. Leave him alone, give him a chance to be with his family,’ ” Johnson said. “But others will say: ‘Sorry, but we put him in office. We gave him power. We gave him visibility. I know he’s not the president anymore, but he can pick up the phone and call so-and-so. He can go to this company and ask
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COVER STORY them to invest in the black community.’ ” Just imagine, Johnson said, another huge racial controversy — the next Ferguson or Charleston shooting or Trayvon Martin. If Obama doesn’t speak out afterward, doesn’t extend his leadership, the questions will inevitably start. “People will ask, ‘Why is he remaining silent?’ . . . ‘Was his heart ever really there?’ ” Johnson said. “There is just no escape.” Ruby Bridges, the first black child to attend an all-white school Not all pioneers, however, see that lifelong expectation as a burden. “You can’t say, ‘Well, I don’t want to do that. That’s it. It’s over,’ ” said Ruby Bridges Hall. For a period of her life, said Hall, 62, she tried to do exactly that, disappearing into a life of anonymity. In 1960, at age 6, she became the first black child to attend an all-white school in Louisiana. White parents immediately pulled out their children. Every teacher at the school except one refused to teach her. She spent her whole first year secluded in an empty classroom, kept away from white kids in the cafeteria and playground. Federal marshals had to escort her to class — a moment that Norman Rockwell depicted in a painting titled “The Problem We All Live With.” For years afterward, she said, she didn’t understand the implications of that experience and even avoided it. She married, raised four kids and quietly worked as a travel agent for American Express. By chance, decades later, she found herself back at William Frantz Elementary as a volunteer, the same school she had integrated as a child. After her brother was shot and killed, Hall started looking after his orphaned daughters, who happened to attend the school. Amid that dark period in her family’s life, she said, she finally made peace with her past. “You look back and take stock of your life and ask yourself, ‘What am I doing? Am I doing something meaningful, something that makes a difference in the world?’ ” she said. “Once I started asking that question, it brought me right back to that experience in 1960.” She said she realized that “there is your job, and then there is your calling. And your calling is not something you can run away from.” She wrote a book about her experiences as a child. She reunited with her former elementary school teacher on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” She created a foundation and began touring schools, talking to children about racism. “I think probably President Obama is going to find himself in those same shoes. His work will not ever be done,” she said. “What you’ve accepted won’t allow you to quit.” L. Douglas Wilder, the first black governor As time passes, older trailblazers say, you become preoccupied with the question of legacy. Some of it has to do with vanity over how you’ll be remembered, they said. But you also
first black U.S. attorney general, NASA administrator, U.S. trade representative, federal director of prisons and homeland security secretary. Add to that list the first black female four-star admiral, U.N. ambassador and Environmental Protection Agency administrator. Wilder said he made a similar push during his administration to involve more minorities and women than his predecessors. And yet, he said, since his election, no African American in Virginia has won a statewide office. The question of why continues to frustrate and befuddle him.
AMANDA VOISARD FOR THE WASHINGTON POST
find yourself searching for signs of change, proof that you moved the needle in some way. It is an exercise, they say, that leads to frustration. L. Douglas Wilder, 85, said that for almost two decades he wondered whether his accomplishments amounted to anything in a historical sense. In a precursor of sorts to Obama’s election, he became in 1989 the country’s first African American to be elected governor. His victory was so narrow it was decided by less than half a percent. But his inauguration was splashed across the front pages of the countryandhailedasawatershedmomentinpolitics. Wilder, however, wondered privately for years whether it really was. “Being number one means nothing until there’s a number two,” he explained. It took 17 years before another black man was finally elected governor: Deval Patrick, in Massachusetts in 2006. Wilder flew up to witness his inauguration. “I took tremendous comfort in what I call the confirmation of my long-held belief,” he said, “that my election as governor was not some sort of aberration that could never happen again.” These days, Wilder talks about race and politics operating like a door. He talks about how hard it was to push that door open, and the difficulty of keeping it ajar. As a pioneer, he said, you often hope your “first” will lead to others. Since Obama’s election as president, the country also has seen its
Robert Johnson, who in 1980 founded Black Entertainment Television, was the nation’s first black billionaire.
Ed Dwight, the first black astronaut candidate What drives those worries about legacy is actually a much deeper question about our country: Are our divisions and disparities over race getting better or worse? It is a question about the future, about hope versus despair, about optimism versus pessimism. And among some who have devoted their lives to pushing for progress, it elicits gloom. Dwight, who was chosen by President John F. Kennedy’s administration to be the first black man to undergo astronaut training, said that among his darkest, innermost fears is the idea that Obama’s election could turn out to be the worst thing that ever happened for African Americans. He talks about a backlash effect since Obama’s election, a feeling among white America that now “we don’t owe you nothing. You got a black president of the United States. So we don’t owe you a thing.” Alexa Canady, the first black neurosurgeon Alexa Canady also struggles with despair. Many hoped Obama’s election would heal the country’s racial rift, but instead, his presidency has exposed just how deep that rift runs, she said. Canady, 65, became the country’s first black female neurosurgeon in 1981. And she likens America’s racial problem to a throbbing abscess on a patient’s body. Ignoring it only makes it worse, she said. “You have to lance the abscess to open it up. It’s the only way to heal it.” But the prognosis remains unclear. Obama’s legacy, she said, depends in large part on what comes out of the anger and racial conflict seething across the country these days. And yet, despite that uncertainty, Canady and other black pioneers said they still cling to hopes that the country will one day reach a point where all this talk of race, trailblazing and even “firsts” becomes irrelevant. Former university president Simmons said she imagines students 25 years from now reading discussions like this one on race. “They’ll say, ‘Isn’t it odd that there was a time when someone like me could not expect to be president? Was there really a time like that?’ ” she said. And that, she and other black pioneers said, is when they will know they have achieved something truly profound. n
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Running out from Bolt’s shadow R OSS K ENNETH U RKEN Kingston, Jamaica BY
t’s just after 6 a.m. at the University of Technology’s Back Field, and Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, known as the Pocket Rocket because of how she explosively launches her 5-foot frame off the blocks, is singing along to Adele’s “Hello,” which is blasting through pink headphones. The storied Blue Mountains loom in the distance behind the sprinter. She was the first to arrive for practice at 5 a.m., listening to Donnie McClurkin gospel music in her Mercedes-Benz and reflecting on her “overall gratitude for the morning” before starting her stretches. Like her countryman Usain Bolt, she owns the 100-meter race. In Beijing at 21 years old, she took Olympic gold, and she repeated the feat at the London Games in 2012. Now on the cusp of 30, she’s looking for a three-peat this summer at the Rio Games. But though she’s dominated her sport in the world championships and Olympics, her meteoric rise has occurred remarkably under the radar, especially compared with Bolt’s. Standing by the chain-link fence she jovially chats with a middleaged campus employee who stops by this practice every morning to see history in motion. He also has a crush on her teammate Elaine Thompson, and Fraser-Pryce gently ribs him about his slim chances. Thompson, 23, who with Fraser-Pryce was part of the 4x100 gold medal relay team at the 2015 world championships in Beijing, has something else on her mind: a carb-heavy breakfast. “You want dumpling?” FraserPryce asks her teammate. “Then you have to work hard.” Fraser-Pryce has fliers advertising an upcoming fundraiser at Kingston’s Penwood Church of Christ. A portion of the proceeds go to the church in the Waterhouse ghetto where she grew up. Her ascent from the ghettos of Kingston — amid the political strife on the island in the 1980s and 1990s — made her success all the more improbable, but her time
CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES
Jamaica’s Fraser-Pryce doesn’t need a spotlight, but she does want equal treatment on the track there strengthened her grit and introduced her to running by unexpected means. Her mother, Maxine Simpson, supported her three children by working as a higgler, a street vendor. A single mother and promising athlete in her own right who had gotten pregnant in her teens, she didn’t want her only daughter to meet the same fate and was extra strict with her. Trying to flee her mother’s overbearing watchfulness gave Fraser-Pryce a reputation in the Waterhouse as a fast runner who heard the name of one of the country’s great runners as she dashed through the lanes. “There are times when I was a little older and she wanted to give me a whipping, she’d run me down, and I’d run down the street, and the guys would say, ‘Run-run, Merlene Ottey, run.’ ” She now lives with her husband not far from Bob Marley’s old house in Kingston’s Barbican neighborhood but doesn’t forget
her humble origins. Come 7 o’clock, a whistle blows to start the serious running portion of practice. Fraser-Pryce pulls a pair of 16-pound weighted shorts over her stretch pants and touches her hands down to her green running shoes. She straps on her GPS watch like she’s going into battle. She will run four timed repeats of 50 meters. She’s listening to Lauryn Hill, getting in the zone. Once practice finishes come 8, she heads to nearby Shelly’s Cafe, a campus eatery she opened last spring. She’s the first female athlete to take home three gold medals at a single worlds, and though expectations are high, the big question is whether she can take home a third Olympic gold in the 100 in Rio. “I’m also wondering myself,” she says, but it’s not something she’s dwelling over. Despite her success, she has played second fiddle to Bolt, who trains at his own track with the Racers Track Club at the University
Shelly-Ann FraserPryce of Jamaica, shown here winning gold in the women’s 4x100 relay at the 2015 world championships, won gold in the Olympic 100-meter sprint in 2008 and 2012.
of the West Indies at Mona. His bumping nightlife spot Tracks and Records, far more chichi than mellow Shelly’s Cafe, is perhaps an apt representationoftheirpublicreceptions worldwide — with Bolt as an animated ambassador for the sport and Fraser-Pryce a subtler figure. “Usain brings a different level of competition to the sport, and also I guess it has to do with his exuberance,” she says. Even though she doesn’t crave the spotlight, she does want equal treatment. Recently, the controversial comments from the CEO of Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California, who said female players ride the coattails of their male counterparts, along with the ongoing wage discrimination lawsuit by members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team against the U.S. Soccer Federation, have attracted attention to this issue. “The only thing I advocate for is for equality for female athletes because we train just as hard and we’re always having a lot of headto-head clashes, always competing against each other,” she says. “So I definitely think in terms of not only our sponsors but our meet organizers and stuff like that, definitely should push a lot more the female athletes out there.” She leaves the cafe, stopping by her house before heading to the hair salon she owns, Chic Hair Ja, to do something crazy to her locks before her 3 p.m. workout. Changing her hair, she says, is also part of her routine in competition. “It relaxes me, just gets me feeling happy and not worried about anything but having fun and enjoying the moment,” she says. “It takes away the nervousness.” Fraser-Pryce, who is vocal about the role of her faith in her pursuits, believes she is moving toward something greater beyond the track in her message. “I believe there’s no coincidences in life,” she says. “I believe that God has given me the ability to do what I do for a bigger purpose. And that purpose is not only to bring awareness to His name but to the persons in my community.” n
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2016
N ORA K RUG
ee Ledger can remember exactly when she found solace, if not salvation, after the death of her 10week-old son. It is where she found it, and how, that surprised her: in a coloring book. Ledger, a former English teacher and hospice chaplain, had always been able to use words and prayer to find peace in difficult times and to help others do the same. But after her son died in April 2011, she needed something more, something different, to calm her nerves and help soothe her grief. “I was looking for something quiet that could get rid of this restlessness,” she says, to help quell the churning thoughts that made it hard for her to focus or sleep. Back then, coloring books weren’t the phenomenon they are today. Ledger found hers in a spiritual catalogue. Now, of course, adult coloring books are ubiquitous, crowding bookstores and bestseller lists. Coloring-book groups have sprouted up everywhere — in libraries and cafes, on Facebook and Instagram. In 2015, an estimated 12 million adult coloring books were sold in the United States, according to Nielsen Bookscan. There are adult coloring books for hipsters, “Dr. Who” fans, cat lovers, Taylor Swift devotees, and admirers of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — pretty much anyone with a niche interest and a need to relax. In other words, everyone. “It’s easy to pooh-pooh coloring books as just another fad,” Ledger says. But maybe, she says, we shouldn’t be so dismissive: “Anything can be a fad, even prayer.” For Ledger and others, coloring books offer a real elixir, a way of getting past hurdles — mental, physical or both — that can’t be replicated by more-traditional approaches. Joanne Schwandes, 67, of Silver Spring, Md., says that coloring books have boosted her confidence in fine motor skills weakened by a tremorinherarm.AVirginiamother says that coloring has helped her stay calm in the face of her son’s violent behavior. On one Facebook coloring group, members share their creations along with their stories of healing — using coloring as a
Between the lines
tool against self-harming or as a way to manage the effects of physical illness or fend off depression and other difficulties. Coloring books work like other mindfulness techniques such as yoga and meditation, says Craig Sawchuk, a clinical psychologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Such approaches work “almost like a volume knob to turn down the sympathetic nervous system, the stress response.” Coloring can help slow down heart rate and respiration, loosen muscles and stimulate the brain, he says. Coloring has a “grounding effect” he says, a benefit that can be amplified with deliberate focus on the process — “the gentle pressing of the crayon or pencil on the page, the texture of the paper across your hand, and the soft
sounds of the coloring instrument moving back and forth in a rhythmic fashion,” he says. Although there have been no large clinical studies of coloring books, the benefits of coloring are comparable to those of mindfulness practices, he says, which have been studied. And coloring can help with more-severe problems beyond stress; Sawchuk spoke about one patient who used coloring books to stop an obsessive habit of picking at her skin. Indeed, art therapists have been using coloring books for years. “There’s a self-soothing meditative benefit because you are doing the same motion over and over, especially with symmetrical drawings,” says Lina Assad Cates, a psychotherapist and board-certified art therapist in Washington,
Yes, adult coloring books are hip. But for some, they provide relief from life’s worst stresses and griefs.
D.C., who uses coloring books as part of her practice. “The books help create boundaries — the literal boundaries of the lines and the metaphorical boundaries for drawing healthy boundaries in relationships. There’s also the potential benefit of just mastering something you’ve created.” This reflects Ledger’s experience. “As a pastor, I am fascinated by how easily coloring becomes meditative,” she says. “By selecting colors and working with the design, I find that I can lose myself in ways that are healing and creative.” Ledger, who lost her husband to cancer in 2013, less than a year after giving birth to twins, spends about three hours a week coloring, mostly at night, when her children are asleep and she can sit quietly in the kitchen of her Rockville, Md., home and gather her thoughts. Now pastor at Bethesda United Church of Christ, Ledger approaches her hobby with a mix of pride and self-deprecating humor. “I’m not an artist,” she says as she spreads out her works on her bed. Some she keeps in a hardback binder, others in a small journal that fits in her purse. In a small office carved out of a second bedroom, her pencils and markers are neatly organized in plastic containers that once held detergent. Ledger, 46, has colored her way not only through grief but also through physical pain. When she had back surgery a few years ago, she asked the doctors to make sure that the intravenous lines were in her right arm so that she could use her left, her coloring arm, as soon as she was awake. “I literally colored in the recovery room at the hospital,” she says. Still, she understands that coloring is neither a panacea nor for everyone. “If someone was grieving, I wouldn’t just pay a visit on them and say, ‘You should color, and that would take your grief away,’ ” she explains. “I don’t believe that.” But coloring has given her a sense of power in a life that has spun wildly off plan. “Being able to sit there and actually control that little world” inside a coloring book has been “really instrumental in my starting a new chapter of my life,” she says. “I don’t know if you ever fully heal from loss and trauma. But coloring has definitely helped me start a new life again.” n
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2016
A look at when reasoning is hijacked N ON-FICTION
S ALLY S ATEL
CAPTURE Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering By David A. Kessler Harper Wave. 406 pp. $27.99
hatmadetheacclaimed American writer David Foster Wallace doubt his talent so profoundly — and, ultimately, take his own life? Why would a university president make obscene phone calls to prospective babysitters? How can we understand a beloved comic actor who relentlessly consumes cocaine, endangering himself, his family and his career? In his ambitious but problematic new book, “Capture,” David A. Kessler — a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and a retired medical school dean at Yale and the University of California at San Francisco — tries to answer these questions. “What happens when our rational minds feel as though we’ve been hijacked by something we cannot control?” he asks. In other words, what happens when we are captured? Kessler defines “capture” as a triad of basic elements. The first is a narrowing of attention. This is followed by a “perceived lack of control” and then a “change in emotional state.” What we end up doing, he writes, “may not be what we consciously want.” Kessler says he was drawn to study the power of unbidden influence — thoughts, feelings and behaviors that override reason and will — through his earlier FDArelated work on tobacco and obesity; he has written three books on those subjects. “Is it possible that the same biological mechanism that selectively controls our attention and drives us to chain-smoke and over-eat . . . is also responsible for a range of emotional suffering?” he asks. Kessler concludes that it is, and in a section on the neural underpinnings of capture he explains the commonalities. These include the basic workings of brain circuits that enable us to selectively focus attention, couple sensory experiences with feelings, form and recall memories, and learn. The result is behavioral patterns that are sometimes useful and some-
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DAN GROSSI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
David Foster Wallace, top, was brilliant from his youth but stricken with self-doubt. Franz Kafka, above left, regarded his father with awe, fear and confusion. Winston Churchill, above center, had very dark periods but never seemed to be incapacitated by them. Tennessee Williams was overcome by intense episodes of panic and fear.
times destructive. But this is not a book about the brain. It is mostly devoted to narratives of figures, famous and unsung, who illustrate capture and self-destruction. In a chapter called “What Captures?,” Kessler identifies about 20 forms of undoing. In “Gambling” he offers the 19th-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who wrote about and suffered from excessive gambling; in “Drink,” the late author Caroline Knapp explains her love affair with alcohol; under “Brutish Father,” there is Franz Kafka, whose demanding dad greatly distressed him; “Rejection” features an Edith Wharton character in her
obscure novel “The Reef” whose romantic overtures are spurned; “The Body” is inspired by the hypochondriac Tennessee Williams; “A Work of Art” showcases Beat Generation artist Jay DeFeo and her obsession with painting; and “Control” revolves around an anorexic college student named Frances, among many others who are consumed with and shaped by traumatic experience, death, opiates and abandonment. Kessler also shows that people who embrace the qualities of capture sometimes find salvation. This theme is explored through the lives of notable individuals who fought their way back from
depression, such as Winston Churchill and the writer William Styron. Cartoonist Chris Ware, for example, was mired in self-loathing until he was transformed by the birth of a daughter. Spiritual revelation led Bill Wilson, known as Bill W., to co-found Alcoholics Anonymous. Thandi Shezi, a brutalized political prisoner in South Africa, found peace in forgiveness for her captors. These essays, which combine the biography and psychology of their subjects, are impressively rich, even though most are only a few pages long. The prodigious amount of reading and research that went into the book is evident in more than 100 pages of detailed notes at the back. Kessler is an excellent storyteller, and “Capture” is bursting with human drama drawn from real lives rather than the bland, composite case studies that clinicians tend to favor. However, at the book’s core is a very slim thesis. Namely, that “our emotional struggles and mental illness” are driven by “a stimulus — a place, a thought, a memory, a person [that] takes hold of our attention and shifts our perception.” Why some people are captured — obsessed, fixated, enthralled — by particular events but others are not is one of life’s bigger mysteries. The capture theory does not shed light on this question. Without predictive power — who will be captured, why or when — the theory can’t really serve as a basis for understanding or action. And that is because it is a description of what happens,notanexplanationofwhy. The capture theory itself does not build meaningfully upon current knowledge, nor does it unravel any mystery of why, despite our best interests, we sometimes act as we do. n Satel is a psychiatrist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is co-author of “Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience.”
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2016
A ﬁne crime novel that feels personal
Thomas Jefferson: Model of mastery
P ATRICK A NDERSON
aura Lippman’s “Wilde Lake” is one of her best novels and feels like one of her most personal. The story takes us deep into the life of Luisa (Lu) Brant, seen both as a child and as the state’s attorney of Howard County, Md. The book is unusual in that Lippman spends more time relating Lu’s childhood and family life than she does the novel’s nominal plot, which concerns a murder case that Lu prosecutes. But Lippman’s portrayal of Lu’s girlhood and family is so exceptional, readers won’t miss the legal drama. You rarely find characterizations as sensitive as these in genre fiction or, indeed, any fiction. The novel feels personal in several regards. As it opens, Lu has just been elected state’s attorney, the office her father once held with distinction. Lippman also followed in her father’s footsteps as a journalist at the Baltimore Sun.There’s a hint of Atticus Finch and Scout in the book’s father-daughter portrait, and the novel is dedicated to the author’s father, Theo Lippman Jr., who died two years ago. In another parallel, Lippman attended the same high school — Wilde Lake High School, in Columbia, Md. — as Lu’s older brother and several other characters in the novel. The novel opens beside Columbia’s Wilde Lake, where the 1980 graduating seniors from Wilde Lake High are celebrating. Lu’s brother A.J. and his friends are there, drinking beer and horsing around when some young toughs with a grudge arrive. Within seconds, one of A.J.’s close friends is badly injured and one of the attackers is dead. After another of the attackers is sent to prison, this violent outburst seems to fade away, but in truth it haunts all that follows. The novel moves easily between Lu’s past and present. Her mother died soon after her birth, her father is beloved but preoccupied with his legal duties, and she’s largely raised by a strict housekeeper called Teensy. We see Lu shadowing her older brother
and his friends (“I learned to ride a bicycle well and fearlessly that summer I was 6 years old because I was trying to keep up with two 14-year-olds”), then she’s baffled by the mystery of how babies happen and horrified when a boy in the fourth grade wants to kiss her. But she’s smart and determined and in time she rejects a suggestion that she attend an all-girls school because she loves competing against boys — and beating them. She confides, “I don’t think it’s an accident that I married the smartest person I’ve ever known,” a line that will amuse readers familiar with Lippman’s marriage to David Simon, the creator of “The Wire” and other memorable television dramas. At 45, Lu is a widow, the mother of twins, and an ambitious politician. She has no time for dating, much less marriage. But, answering the call of “healthy, harmless lust,” she meets regularly with a married friend she has known since childhood. Their trysts are carefully focused: “She doesn’t waste a lot of time talking to him.” Soon after her election, Lu prosecutes a murder case in which a homeless man is charged with killing a woman. It at first seems open and shut, but of course there are complications, and Lu’s investigation leads her back to events at Wilde Lake High School many years in the past. Along the way, Lippman takes realistic looks at teenage sex, at a boy who learns he’s gay, at unhappy marriages, at the challenges of family life and, underlying everything, at the way the past keeps overtaking the present, despite our best efforts to escape it. Lippman’s novels are toughminded, entertaining, heartfelt and wise, and they have deservedly won the Edgar award, the Anthony, the Agatha and every other crime-fiction prize. She’s one of today’s essential writers, and this, her 20th novel, reminds us why. n Anderson reviews mysteries and thrillers for Book World.
S WILDE LAKE By Laura Lippman Morrow. 352 pp. $26.99
MOST BLESSED OF THE PATRIARCHS Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination By Annette GordonReed and Peter S. Onuf Liveright. 370 pp. $27.95
D AVID O . S TEWART
ince Fawn Brodie’s tell-all (or tell-much) biography of Thomas Jefferson in 1974, the Master of Monticello has endured increasingly wintry seasons among the writers of history. The authors of this ambitious book, luminaries of the historians’ guild, acknowledge that “the distance between Jefferson’s words and his deeds . . . has led some critics to simply brand him a hypocrite and leave matters at that.” That judgment, they warn, is “ultimately shallow.” They pledge to look beyond what we might think Jefferson should have done through his fascinating life, focusing instead on what Jefferson himself thought he was doing. Both Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf have written about Jefferson at considerable length before, so they bring deep learning and insight to the effort. Perhaps for that reason, “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs” cannot entirely avoid compiling the sort of despairing catalogue of the great man’s hypocrisies that the authors set out to transcend. Most fundamentally, the author of the ringing commitment to equality in the Declaration of Independence built his economic and social life on human slavery. Jefferson bought and sold people. Rebellious slaves at Monticello faced whipping or being sold off. The hypocrisy meter nearly melts at the spectacle of America’s apostle of liberty co-habiting for decades with a woman he owned, Sally Hemings, while owning their children. That the Hemingses received special treatment from the master makes the relationships no less disappointing, even incomprehensible, to modern sensibilities. The overarching concept behind “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs” is that Jefferson’s complexities may be understood as elements of his notion of “mastery”: that he aimed to be master of himself, master of his family, master of the slave community of Monticello and master of his political life, and that he hoped such
mastery would serve as the model for the new nation. Rather than pursue this notion in a chronological narrative, the authors take up different subjects seriatim, moving forward and back through time. Their approach yields a stimulating graduate seminar on topics in Jefferson studies, shedding welcome light on subjects such as Jefferson’s passionate attachment to music and his tenacious insistence that a person’s religious beliefs are nobody else’s business. For a reader coming to Jefferson for the first or even second time, however, the structure might be challenging. Gordon-Reed and Onuf rightly highlight Jefferson’s ideas, words and charm, the strengths that brought him such success in his life and that have sustained his standing for centuries. And his words were magnificent. When Americans struggled to explain why their refusal to pay British taxes was not simple stinginess, he wrote that they fought for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” W Gordon-Reed and Onuf trace much of Jefferson’s success to his unfailing charm. A man who suffered the early deaths of his father, his wife and five of his six children, Jefferson nonetheless chose to be happy, or at least to appear happy. He declined to engage in arguments. He so disliked disputation that during his presidency, he invited only members of one party to any social event at the White House, dining with only Federalists one evening and with only Republicans on another. At those events, he demonstrated his mastery by serving his guests himself, cheerfully guiding the conversation to display his broad knowledge and relentless good humor. All of it, as Gordon-Reed and Onuf show, was the empire of his imagination, one that has survived for centuries. n Stewart is a writer in Maryland. His most recent work is “Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America.”
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2016
Why more high school seniors need a gap year JEFFREY J. SELINGO is a regular contributor to Grade Point, The Post’s education site. He is author of “There Is Life After College” and “College (Un)Bound.” He is former editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education and a professor of practice at Arizona State University.
Last week’s announcement from the White House that Malia Obama would take a gap year before starting at Harvard University in the fall of 2017 drew swift reactions on social media — a mix of support, ridicule for delaying adulthood, and some envy that the idea of taking a break before college is too often reserved for the wealthy. But more highschool students should be following Malia’s lead and getting off the conveyor belt that leads them to follow the wellplotted and welltrod course to college simply because they don’t know what else to do with their lives three months after they leave high school. I met many of these students later on as 20-somethings while reporting my new book, “There Is Life After College.” Those who weren’t ready for college ended up drifting through their undergraduate years. Some of them dropped out short of a degree, while others graduated from college without any real hands-on experiences to showcase to employers — such as internships, research projects or study abroad. If young adults are to succeed eventually in the job market, they need environments where they can explore for a while before they settle. The family home and high school, with their close supervision and regimented schedule, don’t provide such space. The gap year provides such space to explore careers, work and earn money, and learn new skills. “There’s this rush to figure out what you’re going to do,” says Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who leads the Franklin Project, which has a goal to create 1 million civilian nationalservice positions for young adults. “. . . Life is not linear. Neither should the pathways of getting started.” The stereotype that a gap year is a club for rich kids to go
backpacking through Europe stems partly from its roots in the 18th-century Grand Tour, when British men from privileged backgrounds traveled around Europe to explore art, history and culture. Even today, an estimated 200,000 students in the United Kingdom defer admission to a university to travel or work. There are no comparable statistics for the United States, but the idea is growing in popularity. At the same time, more and more gap-year providers are trying to appeal to middle- and low-income students. Sure, gap years are expensive, but in some cases an investment in a year off might be money saved later on if students are more directed when they eventually go to college. After all, four out of 10 students who start at four-year colleges don’t earn a degree after six years. Still, plenty of parents and students remain unconvinced that gap years are beneficial. Guidance counselors, who are usually evaluated by how many students they send right on to college, rarely recommend a gap year. Parents worry their kids will take a permanent detour and skip college altogether. Every year, about 20 percent of
Malia Obama, seen with the president in Chicago last month, is headed to Harvard, but she is taking a gap year first.
high school graduates delay college for some period of time, about half of them for just a year. But not all time off from education is created equal. The reasons a high school graduate puts off college is critically important to how well they eventually do in school and in their career. For the gap year to truly matter, it can’t be simply a break, a year spent sleeping in the childhood bedroom and working part-time at McDonald’s. Students who delay college to work odd jobs while they try to “find themselves” don’t do as well as everyone else when they get to campus. They get lower grades and there’s a greater chance they will drop out. But students whose gap years involve travel — whether to a foreign country or to a different part of the U.S. — not only end up with higher grades in college, but they also graduate at the same rate as those who don’t delay at all. Research has found that when gapyear students arrive on campus, they take their studies more seriously and don’t engage in risky behavior, such as alcohol abuse. For a gap year to have a significant impact on success in college, and later in the working world, it needs to be a transformative event, quite distinct from anything a student has experienced before — a
meaningful work experience, academic preparation for college, or travel that opens up the horizon to the rest of the world. It should also be designed to help students acquire the skills and attributes that colleges and employers are looking for: maturity, confidence, problem solving, communication skills and independence. Today, there are new emerging gap-year options that offer a broader range of experiences, sometimes at a lower cost: l Global Citizen Year gives high-school graduates a gap year working in a developing country. Tufts University has added it as an option for incoming students. The provost there told me he could imagine half the class arriving via that route one day. l AmericCorps is probably the closest thing the United States has to a national gap year. But nearly 600,000 people apply for 80,000 spots annually, only half of which are even full time. It’s not that we should encourage students to skip college, but we need to provide more pathways for further education after high school than the one route we largely provide today. If anything, perhaps Malia Obama’s decision will encourage others to find a better way to locating the on-ramp to college, a career and eventually a purposeful life. n
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2016
Venezuela’s imminent implosion JACKSON DIEHL is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post.
The encouraging news from Latin America is that the leftist populists who for 15 years undermined the region’s democratic institutions and wrecked its economies are being pushed out — not by coups and juntas, but by democratic and constitutional means. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina is already gone, vanquished in a presidential election, and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff is likely to be impeached in the coming days. The tipping point is the place where the movement began in the late 1990s: Venezuela, a country of 30 million that despite holding the world’s largest oil reserves has descended into a dystopia where food, medicine, water and electric power are critically scarce. Riots and looting broke out in several blacked-out cities the other week, forcing the deployment of troops. A nation that 35 years ago was the richest in Latin America is now appealing to its neighbors for humanitarian deliveries to prevent epidemics and hunger. The regime that fostered this nightmare, headed by Hugo Chávez until his death in 2013, is on the way out: It cannot survive the economic crisis and mass discontent it has created. The question is whether the change will come relatively peacefully or
through an upheaval that could turn Venezuela into a failed state and destabilize much of the region around it. A democratic outcome seemed possible in December, when a coalition of opposition parties won two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly. Rather than concede or negotiate, however, the Chavista government, now headed by President Nicolás Maduro, dug in. At its direction, a constitutional tribunal stacked with party hacks has issued annulments of every act by the new assembly, including an amnesty for scores of political prisoners. Gangs of regime thugs now roam the streets on motorcycles and attack opposition gatherings. Meanwhile, the government is essentially shutting itself down: Recently, Maduro ordered that state
employees, who make up more than 30 percent of the workforce, would henceforth labor only two days a week, supposedly in order to save energy. Remarkably, most of the Western Hemisphere is studiously ignoring this meltdown. The Obama administration and Washington’s Latin America watchers are obsessed with the president’s pet project, the opening to Cuba. Last month, a delegation of senior Venezuelan lawmakers traveled to Washington to make one more effort to call attention to their crisis. They had a simple message: “Venezuela will end with a political change, because there is no other possibility,” said Luis Florido, president of the National Assembly’s foreign affairs commission. “But the government will decide how this change happens.” At the moment, the slim remaining hopes for a democratic solution rest on a constitutional provision allowing for a referendum to remove Maduro. The obstacles to its success are almost comically steep: The opposition must first persuade some 200,000 people to appear at a government office (now open two days a week) to vouch for their signatures on a petition, then collect the
signatures of 20 percent of the electorate, or about 4 million people. If the referendum is held, the vote to remove Maduro would have to be higher than the total reported number of votes he received in his 2013 election. All this has to happen in the next nine months if a new presidential election is to be triggered. Yet just extracting the necessary forms for the first petition from the regimecontrolled electoral commission cost the opposition six weeks. The Venezuelan lawmakers had some practical and specific requests for the Obama administration, starting with the public release of the names and alleged offenses of top Venezuelan officials included on a confidential U.S. sanctions list. They’d also like help finding the $300 billion to $400 billion they estimate has been stashed in foreign bank accounts by the Chavista elite; the money is desperately needed to import food and stave off a foreign debt default. Most of all, however, Venezuelans hope for U.S. leadership in pushing Maduro to accept an election. Said Vecchio: “The moment has arrived when you can no longer ignore this. Because what happens in Venezuela is going to affect the whole region.” n
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2016
BY DARKOW FOR THE COLUMBIA DAILY TRIBUNE
Why I hate breast cancer walks KARUNA JAGGAR is executive director of Breast Cancer Action, a national organization advocating for women at risk of and living with breast cancer.
Every spring, major breast cancer charities like Susan G. Komen and the Avon Foundation encourage people to raise money by walking. Each year, multiple organizations put on hundreds of walks, raising tens of millions of dollars. Since the 1980s, they’ve argued that these efforts are key to ending a devastating disease. About their three-day event, Komen proclaims: “This isn’t just a walk. It’s the journey to the end of breast cancer.” As executive director of the national Breast Cancer Action organization, I’ve seen these walks become larger, shinier and more closely tied to their corporate sponsors. That bloat is bad for supporters and those with cancer alike. Here’s why: The cost of putting on breast cancer walks today, especially multi-day walks, can be extravagant. And many of the bestknown breast cancer charities don’t report how much their walks cost or raise, so it’s impossible to find out how much money really goes to breast cancer programs. These figures should be easy to find, especially as some walks require people to raise thousands of dollars to participate. For example, based on their news releases, the Avon Foundation raised about $34 million from their two-day walks last year. They gave about
$18 million in grants to breast cancer organizations. That means 47 percent of the money raised by walk participants wasn’t publicly accounted for. If all that money is going toward putting on the walks themselves, participants and donors deserve that information so they can decide whether that’s the way they want to spend their time, money and energy. Even when money does go to breast cancer organizations, it’s unclear what the funds are being used for. The very name of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Series suggests that the money raised from these walks will go to research to find a cure. But Komen’s own website states that only 25 percent of the money raised goes toward “research and training grants.” And even that category doesn’t reveal how much money is going to research alone or the type of research that’s being
BY LUCKOVICH FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
funded. The other 75 percent goes to “breast cancer health education and breast cancer screening and treatment programs,” a nebulous category that could include everything from pink ribbons to poster campaigns. Getting answers to where the money goes is critical, because we haven’t made nearly enough progress dealing with the disease’s mortality rate. Today, 250,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. More than 40,000 women die of the disease each year, a number that has hardly declined in 25 years. And essential research is severely underfunded. We’re still not devoting enough resources to studying metastatic, or advanced breast cancer — so fewer women die of the disease — or to understanding the environmental links to breast cancer, which would prevent women from getting breast cancer in the first place. While we’re on the topic of environmental toxins, one of the most galling aspects of walks for breast cancer is how many of the corporations that produce toxins also sponsor walks and runs for breast cancer and get great PR in the process. We call this pinkwashing, a term we coined in 2002 to describe a company or
organization that claims to care about breast cancer while at the same time making or promoting products that increase a woman’s risk of the disease. Perhaps the most hypocritical pinkwashing offender is Avon, the multibillion-dollar cosmetics corporation behind the Avon Foundation. While the corporation gains brand loyalty by hosting walks in its name, it also uses chemicals in its makeup that are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and may even interfere with breast cancer treatment. The sea of pink cheeriness also covers up what it’s like to live with the disease. In their marketing materials and featured attendees, mainstream breast cancer charities seem to suggest that overcoming a breast cancer diagnosis is as simple as getting an annual mammogram, thinking positively and fighting hard. These messages, and the festive atmosphere of the walks, hide the devastating, complex reality of the disease. We deserve organizations that are accountable, transparent and using their power to make a real difference in the lives of women with the disease. We need to do our part by holding them accountable and asking these important questions. n
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2016
The Paciﬁc Rim BY
J OHN V IDALE
A tragic month along the tectonic subduction zones that surround the Pacific Rim has also been a spellbinding one for seismologists. A mag nitude 6.2 quake on April 14 was followed a day later by a magnitude 7.0, together killing at least 49 in the Kyushu region of Japan. Less than 24 hours later, a magnitude 7.8 in Ecuador killed at least 650. Major deep earthquakes in Burma and Afghanistan in April were also deadly, and a series of quakes last month struck Vanuatu, too. So many earthquakes of at least magnitude 6.5 in a week is quite uncom mon, even in the volatile tectonic zone known as the Ring of Fire, which encircles the Pacific Ocean. But the dangers of this region re main widely misunderstood, and myths stubbornly persist.
Giant faults such as the San Andreas pose the most risk.
World-destroying films such as “San Andreas” and “Earthquake” feature magnitude 8s and 9s. “The Really Big One,” a New Yorker story for which Kathryn Schulz won a Pulitzer Prize this year, explained the potential dangers of living near the large Cascadia fault in the Pacific Northwest. And the plate collision zones under South America and Alaska’s Aleutian Islands are famous for the monster quakes they spawned in the 1960s. But the bigger threats come from smaller quakes. Some are along the major faults, but even more are from the small faults right underfoot. Only one earthquake larger than magnitude 8.0 is on the list of the 16 deadliest earthquakes; about one-third had magnitudes of less than 7.5. Each year, on average, there are one or two quakes bigger than magnitude 8; 15 bigger than 7; about 150 bigger than 6; and so on. Christchurch, New Zealand, had to be essentially rebuilt after a direct hit from a 6.3 in 2011. Japan was shocked when a magnitude 6.9 decimated Kobe in 1995. And the costliest U.S. earthquake was the magnitude 6.7 Northridge quake that shook Southern California in 1994.
Huge tsunamis are the foremost consequence of giant quakes.
Two horrific tsunamis, in 2004 in Indonesia and 2011 in Japan, jointly killed some 300,000 people. No wonder floods consume so much of our imagination. But in the United States and many other countries, the costliest and most deadly faults are inland, whereas the subduction zone coastline is sparsely populated. The thirddeadliest tsunami in the past century killed a few thousand people, but in the past 40 years alone, a dozen earthquakes each killed more than 10,000. The scariest likely scenario is a temblor that hits the heart of Los Angeles, the San Francisco bay area, Seattle, Portland or Vancouver, not the nearby Pacific Rim oceanfront.
Earthquakes often trigger volcanic eruptions.
The connection is hardly reliable, as this doesn’t happen very often. A 2013 study in the journal Nature Geoscience found that two giant temblors — magnitude 8.8 in Chile in 2010 and 9.0 in Japan the next year — caused no eruptions and that nearby volcanoes even sank, instead of rising in response to the tectonic shifts. Because of the 100 or more miles between most volcanoes and
KIMIMASA MAYAMA/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Two powerful earthquakes hit southwestern Japan last month, killing dozens. April was an unusual month for seismic activity.
the largest faults, such as Cascadia, the shaking at the volcanoes is relatively weak. Earthquakes result from shifting tectonic plates, not magma flows, and have only a weak effect on volcanoes.
The major American Pacific fault lines are “10 months pregnant” or “overdue.”
Earthquakes tend to unfold differently with each iteration on a given patch of fault. Quake recurrence is fairly sporadic because the strength of fault surfaces is highly irregular, and so the complex ruptures are unique each time. Sometimes they break in two or three smaller earthquakes rather than one big one. The chance of a quake on a fault rises slowly after a previous earthquake, not suddenly near a “due date.” After half the average recurrence interval, the chance per year rises to roughly the longterm average. The probability rarely exceeds twice the longterm odds; it is these fairly steady odds that we need to anticipate. The current risk of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake for the Puget Sound, for instance, is 1 chance in 300 per year. Quakes are not like a pregnancy — after a certain
amount of time, birth is not inevitable or immediate.
The entire Ring of Fire settles down or pipes up all at once.
Our relentless imagination, coupled with our compulsion to spot patterns in the noise, makes us poor statisticians of combinations of widely separated earthquakes. A century of observing large quakes tells us that the biggest events trigger, at most, a tiny number of earthquakes beyond 1,000 miles away. A bad day in Ecuador does not mean a dangerous day in Japan, and vice versa. It may be frustrating that our estimates of earthquake danger change little from day to day and year to year, except for the temporary threat of aftershocks. Personally, I consider it reassuring. There really is almost nothing to foreshadow big quakes, although we continue to prospect for silver bullets. Relax, build a long-term shaking- and tsunami-resilient society, and play it as it lies. n Vidale, a professor at the University of Washington, directs the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and is the Washington state seismologist.
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2016
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